The Blue Jays had won the World Series. For the first time in history, Major League Baseball’s championship banner was flying north of the border. But winning again wasn’t going to be easy. Many of the biggest stars of the 1992 championship team weren’t going to be back with the Jays in 1993. Dave Winfield, Jimmy Key, David Cone, Tom Henke: they were all all free agents. None of them would end up returning to Toronto.
Joe Carter was a free agent too. In 1992, he’d been right at the centre of the Blue Jays line-up, hitting third in the order as he belted 34 home runs and racked up 119 RBIs (back in the days when runs batted in was seen as a more telling stat than it is today). He always seemed to be involved in the team’s biggest moments. It was Carter’s game-winning single that clinched first place in the division that year. And it was Carter who recorded the final out in the World Series: catching the ball at first base and then jumping up and down for joy as the team celebrated their very first championship.
But Carter wasn’t sure where he wanted to play in 1993. He loved Toronto, but he lived in Kansas City. Going home to play for the Kansas City Royals was a very tempting proposition. He was torn: he knew he wanted to play for one of those two teams, but he wasn’t sure which one to pick.
That winter, Carter met with the owner of the Royals, Ewing Kauffman. Kauffman was an old man now, and his health was failing. He only had a few months left to live. He wanted his baseball team to win — and to do it before he died. So he offered the slugger more money than the Blue Jays were willing to pay, plus an extra year and all the other contractual clauses that Carter was asking for.
Years later, the Kansas City Star asked Carter how close he came to singing with the Royals. The slugger held his finger and his thumb about an inch apart. “Closer than this,” he told them.
But that night, after his meeting with Kauffman, Joe Carter had a dream. He told Sportsnet about it as part of an oral history of the 1993 Blue Jays season.
“I was walking to the ballpark with Devon White,” he remembered. “It was kind of dark and we came up on the stadium. When I looked up, the lights lit up and it said, ‘Welcome to the SkyDome.'”
As Carter woke the following morning, the dream lingered in his mind. And then he looked outside: his backyard was full of birds. They were all blue jays. It was, he thought, a clear sign from God.
That was all he needed. “The next day I signed with the Blue Jays… That’s how I came back.”
And so in 1993, Joe Carter returned to his familiar role at the heart of the Jays order, helping them get all the way back the World Series. In the bottom of the ninth inning of Game Six, he found himself right in the middle of history, with a chance to live another kind of dream — the kind of dream kids have been dreaming in sandlots and parks and backyards for more than a hundred years. To do something no baseball player had ever done before: to hit a game-winning, come-from-behind home run to win a World Series.
That’s exactly what he did:
A version of this post originally appeared on the The Toronto Dreams Project Historical Ephemera Blog. You can find more sources, links and related stories there.